Review: The House That Will Not Stand, Tricycle

“A decent woman never talks about two things: her age and her lovers”

Ensembles that offer multiple opportunities for middle-aged women of colour (apologies for the clunky description) are few and far between so I think it is important to acknowledge Indhu Rubasingham’s efforts in bringing The House That Will Not Stand to the Tricycle for that alone. That Marcus Garvey’s play turns out to delve into a fascinating and under-explored period in history thus feels like something of a Brucie bonus.

It’s New Orleans in 1836 and Lazare Albans has died. As mistress to this rich white man, the fiercely proud Beartrice has become wealthy in her own right and under the relatively liberal system of plaçage, she and their three daughters are free women and stand to receive a grand inheritance. But as Louisiana changes hands from the French to the Yankees, so too do the prevailing US attitudes towards slavery glower on the horizon and threatens the position of all people of colour in a state that had somehow bucked the trend in race relations.

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Review: Medea, Watford Palace

“I am a modern woman, exploring my options, making a decision”

Mike Bartlett’s Medea initially seems a world away from Euripides’ original. With a new version written for Headlong and directed by himself, Bartlett transplants Rachael Stirling’s Medea into stultifying Home Counties suburbia, vibrantly captured by Ruari Murchison’s set. In this small town where her husband Jason grew up, she has long been viewed as a too proud outsider and when he leaves her for the much younger daughter of their landlord, she sinks into a deep and angry depression. Her wrath is all-consuming, pushing even her maternal instincts aside as she barely engages with her son Tom, left mute since his father departed, in her relentless pursuit for vengeance.

Even before she arrives onstage, Stirling’s presence dominates proceedings like a threatening storm cloud. Her eyes flashing with coruscating wit and scarcely concealed contempt for those around her, even the making of cups of tea feels like a declaration of war as she seethes with rage at what her life has become. There’s a brutally blunt humour to her, especially in her interactions with those neighbours – Lu Corfield’s compassionate Sarah and Amelia Lowdell’s sharper Pam – but there’s also traumatic emotional damage, eye-wateringly evinced in a highly disturbing kitchen scene. Continue reading “Review: Medea, Watford Palace”

Review: Earthquakes in London, Richmond Theatre

“These aren’t the results we were expecting”

Of all the new plays that I saw last year, it would have taken me a long time to arrive at Earthquakes in London as being the one which would receive a national tour. Not because it wasn’t good, in fact I really enjoyed Mike Bartlett’s slightly flawed epic ambition, but because the National Theatre production was intrinsically linked to the way in which Headlong utterly transformed the Cottesloe auditorium with Miriam Beuther’s design with its serpentine catwalk, trapdoors, bar stools and cutaway stages. But never ones to shirk a challenge, Goold and Headlong, along with touring director Caroline Steinbeis, have remounted the show into a tour-able format which I caught at Richmond Theatre.

My original review can be read here and it was actually quite nice to be able to revisit the show a year later in the context of his other 2010 work Love Love Love and especially in a week when I had also caught Bartlett’s latest epic work 13. Knowing what to expect makes a world of difference: I didn’t feel the length of the show – 2 hours 55 minutes here – whereas people new to it all commented on it; one was able to take in more of the detailed work of the company alongside the razzmatazz which was sometimes a little distracting; and even the final sequence, something that I wasn’t hugely keen on last time, made more sense this time round and felt like the necessary balancing of tone to keep the play from being too despondent. The central conceit of the intertwining stories of the three sisters remained strong and the jumps around time were also effective, possibly more so for knowing exactly what was going on in them from the off! The scale of the storytelling is occasionally unwieldy in reaching to be epic , but I don’t think any other writer in the UK is stretching themselves this much and whilst it may not all come off, I thoroughly admire the scope of his ambition. Continue reading “Review: Earthquakes in London, Richmond Theatre”

Review: Moonlight, Donmar Warehouse

“You are the proper target for a cat’s derision”
 
Pinter has never really been one of those playwrights that has held much appeal for me, despite how well regarded he is. The only of his plays that I’ve ever seen is the Almeida’s production of The Homecoming but by and large, I’ve tended to avoid his work. But the Donmar is usually good value for money and always pull together stellar casts and so I duly booked for his 1993 play Moonlight, with Bijan Sheibani making his Donmar directorial debut, sneaking in for a £10 seat at the last preview. Little was I know that time could so slowly as it did here.
 
A ruminative meditation on a dysfunctional family, Moonlight focuses on the dying Andy and his estranged family: his emotionally distant wife Bel tends at his bedside, his two sons refuse to see him and verbally spar with each in a grubby bedsit and the ghostly presence of his daughter that haunts his house. In their own spheres, they all talk about the things they have lost, or rather talk around them, as it is clear that the breakdown in communication between that has caused the rifts, still persists and they are all unable to surmount it.

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DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.